When Israel stood to receive the Torah, the Holy One said to them, “I am giving you My Torah. Bring Me good guarantors that you will guard it.”
First the people said, “Our patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are our guarantors.” This was not acceptable.
Next they said, “Our prophets are our guarantors.” These, too, were unacceptable.
But when the people pledged, “Our children are our guarantors,” the Holy One accepted them immediately: “For their sake, I give the Torah to you.”
I was sharing this midrash with a second grade class last spring. I asked, “Do you think God would like the prophets in exchange for the Torah?” A little girl with all the sass of a teenager replied, “God doesn’t go shopping.” But of course this is exactly what God is doing. Shopping the Torah around until God found the right people to keep the Torah alive. Thankfully it was us!
This week’s Torah portion Ki Tavo begins with instructions of what to do when the Israelites enter the land. (Of course there are lots of instructions; it’s all new to them.) They are told that they will possess it, settle in it, and give their Kohein the first fruits to bring before the altar. But it’s not just a quick drop off. They will then recite the lines that we hear at our Pesach seders that begins with: “My father was a wandering Aramean.” And on goes the story of our Exodus from Egypt.
For many of us Jewish educators, the new year of Hebrew School/Religious School/Beit Midrash is just beginning. Whatever your community calls it, countless teachers and teen leaders are ready to keep making “good guarantors.” We spent the summer learning at workshops and trainings, talking to colleagues, writing lessons, planning programs, and maybe even relaxing just a bit. We are ready to receive your first fruits, and second, and third. We are ready to talk about God with your children and help them explore God’s shopping habits and other ideas.
The Torah portion continues: after you leave your first first fruits, and tell the story of your people, you are to “enjoy together with the Levite and the stranger in your midst, all the bounty that God has bestowed upon you and your household.” Clearly, this is not an isolated or solitary practice. We are supposed to share the wealth. So when our first fruits (and guarantors) learn, we should talk with them about what they learned. Find ways to draw out what ideas they explored, and keep going. It starts with the drive or walk home from school. Instead of the proverbial, “Did you learn anything in school today,” try asking, “Tell me one idea that you talked about in class.” Do not settle, as my parents did, for “nuttin’.”
And how will we know when the midrash is fulfilled? How will we know when our children are good guarantors? When they can tell us the story. When they can share their ideas. And maybe even when they can create their own midrash.